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Israel Expresses Regret After Turkey Expels Ambassador

In this image taken from the Free Gaza Movement website on May 28, 2010, one of the Turkish ships taking part in the 'Freedom Flotilla' is seen docked prior to heading for the shores off the Gaza Strip

Ties between Israel and its former Muslim ally, Turkey, have plummeted in the wake of a United Nations report on a deadly Israeli raid off the coast of the Gaza Strip more than a year ago.

Israel has expressed regret over Turkey's decision on Friday to expel the Israeli ambassador and suspend military ties between the two countries. Turkey is furious after a United Nations report charged that Israel used excessive force in a commando raid on a Gaza aid flotilla last year in which nine Turkish activists were killed.

In a statement by the Prime Minister's Office on Saturday, Israel said it "cherishes the significant ties, past and present, between the Turkish and Jewish peoples" and therefore it had sought to settle the dispute peacefully. But Israel said it could not meet Turkey's demand to apologize for the flotilla raid because Israeli troops acted in legitimate self-defense.

While describing Israeli actions as unacceptable, the U.N. report also said that Turkey did not do enough to prevent a violent confrontation, and that some Turkish activists were armed with iron rods and knives used to attack Israeli commandos.

Israel expressed regret over the loss of life but that was not enough for Turkey, which has been highly critical of the Jewish state since Israel's bloody invasion of the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip in early 2009. Israeli analyst Ra'anan Gissin, a former government spokesman, says Turkey's Islamist government is not interested in improving ties with Israel.

"Actually, what we are facing here is a new form of diplomatic warfare, not diplomacy as a substitute for confrontation, but as an element of continuing the confrontation but in a different manner," said Gissin.

Israel's military ties with Turkey were seen as an important strategic asset in a hostile region, but now the Jewish state faces growing isolation.

"Turkey, willingly so, is taking the lead. Turkey is ready to lead the campaign of divestment, boycott and sanctions against Israel," said the analyst.

The United Nations report vindicated Israel on a key point: It said the Israeli blockade on Gaza is a legal security measure aimed at preventing weapons from reaching Palestinian militants in Gaza. Turkey says the blockade is illegal and immoral, and it described the U.N. report as "null and void."

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